In this chapter the apostle Paul is speaking of the importance of not judging our brother over things that are not vital. He begins with these words in verses 1-3, “Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him” (NKJV). Paul no doubt had Jewish converts in mind when he said this, for they had been raised under the Law of Moses which had strict dietary rules about not eating certain meats. In Christianity these rules no longer exist, yet those who were “weak in the faith” still felt they should avoid them for conscience sake. Paul is exhorting the saints at Rome to receive him into fellowship and not to look down on him, for our fellowship together shouldn’t be hindered over nonessential things like what we eat. Now let’s look at verses 14-23.

In verses 14-18 Paul says, “I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ dies. Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved be men.” Paul himself was a converted Jew, yet he was persuaded that the former dietary laws did not apply to him any longer. In 1st Timothy 4:3 he writes of those who are “commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.” He goes on to say in verses 4-5, “For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.” But Paul also knew that dear brothers and sisters still had scruples about not eating foods that had been called “unclean” under the Law. For example, if they believed it was wrong to eat pork, which was forbidden by the Law, then they would feel unclean and condemned in their conscience if they were to eat it. The “law of love” prompted Paul to forego his liberty to eat such food in front of them, for his actions could offend his brother, or worse yet, stumble him by encouraging him to eat something that violates his conscience. Love will cause us to seek our brother’s spiritual welfare, even if it means giving up something that we are free to do.

This is brought out in more detail in verses 19-23: “Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense. It is good neither to eat meat or drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak. Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.” Paul makes it crystal-clear that what really matters is that “one may edify another.” But if we cause our brother to eat something that he believes is wrong to eat, we “destroy the work of God.” What does that mean? Well, it’s the opposite of “building our brother up,” for our actions would be “tearing him down” by causing him to do something that is not of faith, which is SIN!

Let’s end this short meditation by using a present-day example. I believe (as Paul did) we are free to “drink wine” (yet not to excess) but if I love my brother who believes it’s wrong to drink wine, I surely won’t invite him over for a meal and set before him a goblet of wine. Paul said, “Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God.” You are free to drink wine while alone in God’s presence, but the law of love would command you to refrain from this liberty in the presence of a doubting brother. (236.3) (DO)